Playing & Training

Rugby Training: Bulking

Man performs pull up on bar

The Top 5 Exercises When Bulking for Rugby

With the rugby season underway, it’s important for rugby players to maintain bulk or increase size for the season ahead. Given that we push ourselves to our physical limits at each match, we need to be in peak physical condition. There are a number of ways to go about doing it, but we have the top 5 exercises to help you bulk up.

Bench press

You are probably already very familiar with the bench press. The bench press works the pectoralis major muscle, as well as supporting muscles around the chest, arms and shoulders, such as the anterior deltoids, serratus anterior, coracobrachialis, scapulae fixers, trapezii, and the triceps. Due to the large number of muscles it works simultaneously, this is an excellent exercise that will bulk your upper body and give you a ruck-ready chest.

Lying on your back on a bench, you hold the barbell or dumbbells above your chest and push the weight away from you. You can do the bench press with either a barbell or a pair of dumbbells, and there are various benefits to each. In addition, the bench press can also be performed at different inclines, which changes the emphasis on the muscle group being used at the time. You can also vary your grip width to achieve a similar effect on different muscle groups. With a greater incline, the bench press will focus more on your shoulders.

Bent-over row

This exercise focuses entirely on your back muscles, and variations of the muscle will achieve different results. Like the bench press, it also works a large group of muscles at the same time, and can be performed with a barbell or dumbbells. Leaning forward with a straightened back, you hold the barbell or dumbbells in both hands and lift the weight towards your chest.

Depending on the form you use, the exercise will either focus mainly on the latissumus dorsi or the deltoid muscles.


The pull-up is a another great upper-body exercise, which primarily relies on your bodyweight as the resistance, although with certain equipment you can augment this weight by adding weights to your body. This works a large group of muscles across the upper body, with specific focus on the arms. The pull-up is performed by gripping onto a bar with an overhand grip (your palms face away from you) and lifting your body up with your arms until your upper and forearms are almost touching.

With the overhand grip, the exercise will focus more on the shoulders and deltoid muscles, which will strengthen your back. This should not be confused with the chin-up, which has an underhand grip and puts more focus on the bicep as the heavy lifting muscle.


The squat is perhaps the largest compound exercise you can perform, as it simultaneously requires the use of muscles across the entire body. In performing squats, you are exercising your thighs, hips, quads, gluteals and hamstrings in the lower body, and also working your lower and upper back, abdominal muscles, costal, trunk and shoulder muscles.

This exercise is great for building bulk and explosive power in your lower body, primarily in the quads, gluteals and hamstrings and is performed by loading a barbell onto your upper back, usually braced across the trapezoid muscles.
Adopting a shoulder-width stance, you keep a straight back and lower your body down whilst moving your hips back. The extent to which you should lower your body will vary from person to person, so it’s good to get expert advice on what’s best for you. Once you reach your lowest extent, you raise your body back to the starting position.

Read more about the 5 different types of squats that help you tailor your workout.

Man squatting in Canterbury gear

Dumbbell step-ups

This exercise is great for building strength in your quads and gluteals, as well as providing more stability in the leg. What’s more, it focuses on each leg individually which helps to increase the strength further. To perform this exercise you need a block to step onto. Holding a dumbbell in either hand, you step up onto the block with one leg and balance at the top with that same leg. Then slowly lower yourself back to the ground and repeat with the other leg. These exercises are great for bulking your upper and lower body, don’t forget to be explosive!!

It’s also worth bearing in mind that a bulking exercise routine is only as good as your diet. A good diet that has you properly fuelled before your workout and has you consuming the appropriate amount of protein after the workout is crucial to complementing the hard work you do in your workout.

It’s important to get expert advice on performing each exercise to prevent injury and to ensure you’re getting the best out of your workout.



Writer and expert